The Mathematical Biosciences Institute


The Mathematical Biosciences Institute (MBI), a center sponsored by the National Science Foundation and located on campus at the Ohio State University in Columbus, is an interdisciplinary research and training institute designed to foster interaction between the mathematical and biological sciences and to nurture an international community of researchers in the mathematical biosciences.

In addition to the many Ohio State faculty members who participate in MBI, about 10 to 15 faculty visitors are in residence at MBI at any one time. Long-term faculty visitors are typically here for 3 months, but some stay as much as a whole academic year. Most of these visitors are supported by MBI; others are partially supported or come with funding from their home institution.

Postdoc fellowships

A similar number of postdoctoral fellows work at MBI. Postdoctoral fellows are typically in residence for 3 years and are provided with two faculty mentors--one from the biosciences and the other from mathematics and statistics--with whom they work closely. Mentors can be Ohio State faculty members or long-term faculty visitors. Some postdoctoral fellows are supported 100% by MBI, while others obtain partial support from a bioscience department or a lab in the public or private sector.

MBI postdoctoral fellows come from a wide variety of academic and cultural backgrounds. Academically, they tend to come from mathematical biology programs, but some come from either mathematics/statistics departments or bioscience departments. MBI seeks candidates who have displayed sufficient evidence of interest and/or experience in mathematical biology.

The expectations and environment at MBI offer postdocs opportunities to learn, participate, collaborate, and publish. Whether they aim for a more lab-oriented experience or lean more to the modeling and computational side, postdocs are able to consult with experimentalists, theorists, and experts of every kind. Opportunities are also available for postdocs to join in proposal writing for National Institutes of Health grants, providing them with valuable experience for their future. Additionally, the chance to teach a class exists for postdocs who wish to do so. Upon completing their residence at MBI, it is anticipated that most of the postdoctoral fellows will take academic jobs, but some will work in the public or private sectors.

Many opportunities exist to create working relationships with academic, industrial, and government agencies. At present, resident and visiting faculty represent over 15 academic departments, and several universities currently participate as MBI partners. Additionally, MBI's corporate membership program creates opportunities for direct interaction between MBI scientists and companies in the private sector. Membership benefits include working with MBI directors to identify problems and topics of interest, to participate in MBI programs, and to present industrial problems to MBI audiences. Current corporate members are Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and GlaxoSmithKline.

Seminars, tutorials, workshops

Working within a theme selected each year, MBI hosts several seminars, tutorials, and workshops. The theme for 2002-03 was mathematical neuroscience, and the theme of the current year is the mathematical modeling of cell processes. The anticipated scientific program for 2004-05 is genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics. These yearly themes direct the content of the year's seminars, workshops, and tutorials; they do not limit research. Opportunities for collaboration always exist in all fields of participants' interest.

Tutorials last several days to 1 week and are tied to the topic of a forthcoming workshop. Tutorials are intended to provide background and a preparatory basis for nonexperts, so that tutorial participants will be better prepared to contribute to and benefit from the workshop. In preparation for the genomic year, there will be two tutorials in September, one on microarrays and one on statistical methods in genomics.

Workshops are week-long conferences focusing on a central theme, the same annual themes discussed earlier. Formal presentations are interspersed with opportunities for breakout sessions and informal interaction between participants. Workshops for the 2003-04 year fall under the broad area of mathematical modeling of cell processes. Upcoming workshop topics include immunology models (cell signaling and immune dynamics) and disease models (e.g., host-pathogen interactions). The 2004-05 year will see six workshops falling under the topical umbrella of genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics. Workshop themes include analysis of gene expression data, computational proteomics and mass spectrometry, and biomarkers in HIV and cancer research.

MBI visitors and postdocs, as well as interested researchers and graduate students, are welcome to apply for tutorials and workshops. The up-to-date list of tutorials and workshops, as well as application forms, can be found at the MBI Web site.

In the plentiful time between tutorials and workshops, MBI residents pursue research and professional goals largely through interactions with each other and with the varied human and physical resources available at Ohio State. One result of such an interactive environment is that opportunities to write and participate in grants often arise.

Summer program

The MBI summer program is a 3-week education program primarily aimed at graduate students from any institution. College instructors and qualified undergraduates are considered for participation in the summer program as well. The first week of the summer program is a tutorial that starts with a mathematical component, followed by a biological component and visits to bioscience labs. During the second and third weeks program participants work in teams on specific projects, with MBI postdoctoral fellows serving as team leaders. The final days of the summer program are devoted to a mini-conference in which the teams present their results. Last summer's participants worked in neuronal rhythms, while this summer's program will focus on cell processes.

MBI is currently involved in plans to develop an interdisciplinary undergraduate major at Ohio State in the mathematical biosciences. Successful implementation of such a major will help MBI fulfill its mission of building a community of researchers in the mathematical biosciences.

With MBI serving as a nexus and conduit for interdisciplinary research in the mathematical biosciences, visitors and participants experience an atmosphere geared to the advancement of science as they develop research collaborations and enhance their professional opportunities.

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